Downsizing the garden library – and updating on Monarchs

It’s been fun, going through my garden books, many of them dating to the ‘90s and early ‘00s when I was writing reviews for the Toronto Star, and beautiful and interesting books just flowed my way. But I have to reduce my collection, this is the year I am trying to get rid of stuff... so I will have a whole lot of books for sale when I re-open this Saturday, September 9, after which they will be gone.

But it’s hard, deciding what has to go!

There are some I won’t take leave of, even though I have long outgrown them – like my first gardening book, purchased in 1978 when I finally had a garden. Carters Dictionary of Gardening was my guide in those early years (this was in the U.K.) – but a keen interest in growing food – dealt with rather too succinctly by Carters in a few short pages under ‘K’ for Kitchen Garden – prompted an investment in a slim paperback by D. G. Hessayon called the Vegetable Plotter. It’s simple and still valued, with you-can’t-go-wrong instructions on growing 25 vegetables, from broad beans to turnips.

Returning to Canada in the early ‘80s, I started my Simcoe County garden and refined my vegetable growing techniques with the Harrowsmith Northern Gardener by Jennifer Bennett. My volume is not in good shape, having weathered a rainstorm or two, but just seeing the cover brings back many happy memories.

Some years later, the Harrowsmith Perennial Garden by Patrick Lima - whose garden on the Bruce Peninsula I visited - helped me embark on ornamental planting. The public’s passion for gardening took off in the ‘90s, and ever more opulent books started to appear. The Garden Design Book, by the editors of Garden Design Magazine – the leaders in the garden porn genre - was one such. The Natural Habitat Garden, by Ken Druse, was another, not only stunningly photographed, but also riding the crest of the new movement that favoured gardening with, rather than against, nature. Then came a succession of reflective, entertaining writing about gardens – from Michael Pollan south of the border to Douglas Chambers in Ontario, whose book Stony Ground is a Canadian classic.

I could go on. Instead, I have been weeding books because these days, I am more likely to turn to a field guide for information that will help me grow the native plants that interest me. My garden library is now reduced by half. Many of those I'm offering for sale are lavishly illustrated, others are comprehensive and useful reference books, and others are just fun – they’re all good to curl up with on a rainy day. Click here for the list.

Monarch Update

So when last I wrote (see the August 24 blog), Numbers #11 and #12 had just been brought into a cage, on Day 10. By Day 14, I have our first chrysalides, three of them; one hanging from a cage, one hanging from a milkweed leaf and one lying on the floor of a cage. I put the latter on a fresh leaf to guard against disease.

No change on Day 15, except I notice gold markings on the chrysalides, a line at the top and three dots diagonally near the bottom – they really are beautiful and jewel-like.

On Day 16, I am contrite. I discover from the Monarch Watch website that the chrysalis needs to hang for the butterfly to form properly. So with the help of my ever-patient husband, a length of thread is tied to the silk at the end of the one that’s been on the floor of a cage. We suspend it from a stick and hope for the best. In another cage a caterpillar is lying curled up on its side on the floor and it has white silk coming from one end. I decide it must have fallen while in position to pupate, and we tie a thread to its silk and suspend it from a stick. Meanwhile, in the new cage with #11 and #12, one is a chrysalis and one is in the the ‘J’ shape that precedes its turning into a chrysalis.

On Day 17, the caterpillar we found curled up on its side and tied to a stick has turned into a chrysalis, so far so good. There’s just one caterpillar left, one of the early ones, and it has stopped feeding and gone to the top of its cage. By Day 18, it is in a ‘J’, and today, Day 20, it’s been in that position for three days. I don’t know whether that’s too long and it may not be well.

So now we have seven chrysalides and one ‘J.’ I lost track of the numbers but am pretty sure that the first two to become chrysalides were #1, and #9 (the one that escaped the puppy’s attentions). I don’t know what happened to the missing caterpillars, I may have miscounted early on and only had 11 – but how at least three escaped is a scientific mystery, perhaps best dealt with in a detective novel, or indeed a full-length feature film.

A neighbor has had two of her chrysalides hatch. The reason they are on a different schedule may be connected to the species of milkweed – hers were on Common Milkweed, mine are on Swamp. I still have a few days to go at least, as there’s no darkening of the chrysalides yet.
Elaine Stephenson
- 5 September 2017 at 12:28pm

Wow, what a fabulous experiment (??). What happens when they become butterflies? Will you let them go & will they get to Mexico & send you a postcard? So interesting. Once when I was a little kid, I found a Monarch on the beach in mid-September. It couldn't fly. So I dug a deep groove in a sheltered spot in the sand, but the Monarch in the groove along with some blossoms of this & that (for food of course). I fully expected it to still be there when we came back to our cottage in May. Imagine my dismay when I found not only was the butterfly gone, but there wasn't even a groove in the sand anymore. I will never forget that sad day. Kids are nuts.
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